After ghazal singer Jagjit Singh, Punjab mourns the loss of another one of its legends, actor Dara Singh, who passed away in Mumbai on Thursday morning at the age of 83. The glorious journey of the world-famous wrestler from Amritsar turned larger-than-life actor, who succumbed to a cardiac arrest, will continue to inspire Indians at large.
Chandigarh-based veteran journalist Nirupama Dutt says, "He was one of the first successful Punjab-bred actors in Bollywood. When one thinks of Ramayana's Lord Hanumana (a series on DD), Dara Singh's is the first image that pops into one's head."
The legend was the first successful action hero of Bollywood (in the'60s and '70s), and was famous for his hits with one of his discoveries back then, actor Mumtaz. "When Dara ji entered the industry, he was a successful professional wrestler. He swayed the audience with his brawny looks, coupled with his acting skills, which were evident in the different characters he played in over 100 Hindi and regional movies," says Kamal Tiwari, Chandigarh-based theatre artiste, who played the role of Dara Singh's son in their 2007 hit, Jab We Met - Dara Singh's last Bollywood movie.
"The kid in him was always alive," says Punjabi film actor and writer Rana Ranbir, who worked with him in his last Punjabi film, Dil Apna Punjabi (2006). "Not many can reach the stature he had in the industry. The credit goes to his devotion, hard work and down-to-earth living," he adds.
Mourning the legend's death, legendry athlete Milkha Singh says, "I have lost a brother and friend. Like me, he came from a humble background and made his country proud. The younger generation must take inspiration from his glorious journey."
While he worked in several successful Hindi movies such as Mera Naam Joker, Mard and Kal Ho Naa Ho, his contribution to Punjabi cinema remains unparalleled. He not only acted but directed many movies such as Dhyanu Bhagat (1978), Sawa Lakh Se Ek Ladaun (1976), Bhagat Dhanna Jatt (1974) and Nanak Dukhiya Sub Sansar (1970). Punjabi film director Manmohan Singh comments on Dara Singh's deep connection with his audience. "He was often criticised for speaking Hindi with a Punjabi accent, but the fact of the matter is that he connected with a large audience, thanks to his personality," he says.
Actor Kulbhushan Kharbanda says, "One can never forget his child-like innocence; a man with a tough body, but an innocent face. He changed the image of Indian actors and introduced the superhero persona to the industry, which was unfamiliar in the '50s and '60s."
Punjabi actor Harbhajan Mann, who played Dara Singh's grandson in Dil Apna Punjabi, said his death is a big loss for Punjab, but he would invariably be remembered for making Punjab, and the country proud.